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10 Warning Signs of Suicide

Updated: Nov 30, 2022

Photo Courtesy Cottonbro

Suicide numbers among active-duty military members has been the highest it’s been since documenting after 9-11. Cases has been steadily increasing over the past years. According to research done in 2021, 30,177 active-duty members and veterans after 9/11 have died by suicide. In the same 20 years, 7, 057 were killed in combat. Sadly, military suicide rates are four times higher that deaths that occurred during military operations. For family and loved ones, this is very alarming.

Throughout my military service and after, I met a lot of members and veterans who either thought about or attempted suicide for various reasons. While based in a foreign country or deployed overseas, members may feel sad and lonely. Although they may bond with other members from all over the globe, being far away, in different time zones with limited resources to call loved ones, members become vulnerable and fall into depression.

The most common stressors identified for both military suicide decedents and military suicide attempts were relationship problems, administrative/legal issues, finances, and workplace difficulties. Flashbacks and nightmares are contributors to racing minds and insomnia. For some who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, fireworks, Toyota Corollas, and soda cans on the side of the road are triggers. All of these mentioned become overwhelming thoughts and feelings which may have led them to attempt or die by suicide.

If a friend of loved one appears to be distressed or exhibiting signs for suicide, do not be afraid to ask if he or she is depressed and contemplating suicide. Do not leave them alone, try your best to keep them calm and get immediate help. Based on my individual therapy, coaching and group sessions, here are 10 most common suicide warning signs:

Isolation from friends and family

This happens when someone spends most of their time alone, avoids family and friends, and social activities. They also lost interest and pleasure in activities they previously enjoyed. One example would be where a family was getting ready to head to a birthday party, but the wife becomes anxious, picks a fight, and says the moment is ruined and no longer wants to attend the party. The wife is avoiding being around family and friends. Another example is where a family has movie nights every Friday nights. Mother was deployed for 6 months and when she returns, she just wants to be alone, in her dark room, in silence. Here are just some real-life examples of members and veterans isolating from friends and family.

Being Sad or Moody

When a person has mood swings and long-lasting sadness, this may lead to depression, which is a major risk factor for suicide. I became friends with this female whom I suspected exhibiting suicide behaviors. I asked her if she was having suicidal thoughts. First, she said she was just sad. A few hours later she was really moody and said she didn’t want to be here anymore. I took that as a cry out for help. I took her to the clinic to be checked which really upset her. I didn’t care if she didn’t talk to me again, I just wanted her to be okay.

Changes in personality, appearance, and behavior

A wonderful friend of mine was the sweetest person, social butterfly, and always made new people feel welcomed to a party or a new workplace. Her uniform always looked sharp, boots were always shined, and she always looked professional. She left for a 6-month deployment, and all seemed well when we talked on the phone throughout her tour. Upon returning home to her family, her hugs didn’t feel the same, she wasn’t as affectionate and talkative. Her uniformed weren’t pressed nor did it look sharp. After greeting us, she said she was done for the day, wanted to be left alone, and went straight to her room. She was not happy to see us as much as we were happy to see her.

Problems with eating and sleeping

A person’s decreased or increased appetite is also an obvious sign of depression or that something is not right. This close female friend of mine was very depressed during our 365 day deployment but didn’t share any of her personal problems with me or the rest of the females. When we were not on runs, she would hit up the gym and work out hard as if she’s releasing her stress and anger. Dinner time comes around, her meal was just a yogurt, two egg whites and a cup of orange juice. That was a very small amount of food to be eating after a long hard work out. After we washed up, we headed to our b-hut and chatted for a little. She mentioned of depression and said she can’t help but wonder if she would make it out of this country alive. And if she did, would she still be the same person, all limbs, all body parts intact? That was her fear which affected her sleep pattern. We went to the clinic for her insomnia and was prescribed some trazodone to help her sleep.

Increased use of alcohol or drugs

For someone who was against smoking and drinking, this friend of mine turned to alcohol to feel relaxed and numb. This is when the truth of all her thoughts, actions, behaviors were let out. She had some marital problems, she and her spouse grew apart, financial problems and the worst part is, her spouse told her to take another tour because he loves being alone. To deal with such hurtful instances, she drank alcohol to help her deal with the hurt that her husband put her through.

Giving away belongings

A really obvious warning sign is when the member returns from deployment and starts packing up their belongings. Some items are labeled for certain persons, jewelries were given to daughters and nieces, putting the house up for sale, signing over vehicle titles to a brother, and even buying a one-way ticket to an unknown destination. This is preparing for a clean suicide and leaving nothing behind for anyone to deal with.

Talking about feeling hopeless or trapped

Any type of trauma may affect the person to where they feel hopeless and trapped. Here is true life story. A convoy left the base and within minutes they were being attacked. The crew who was left behind heard all the action on the radio, felt helpless because there was nothing, they could do from their end at the same time felt trapped because of the guilty feelings of not being able to help our brothers and sisters who came in contact with the enemy. Incidences like these will be scared into our hearts and minds. Feel hopeless, helpless, and guilty will forever remain in questions as, “Could I have done something to save them?” “If I shot the enemy first, would Jon Doe still be alive?” Had we left an hour sooner, would they still be attacked?” Even though we may never know the answer, these questions will drag on for life.

Talking about being a burden to others or not belonging

When a military member deploys especially to a combat zone, chances are they will never be the same. They become short tempered, impatient, wanting to fight anyone who angers them and even have bad road rage. After a while, the family notices these behaviors and become scared or bothered, wishing things could be the way they were before the deployment. The returning member realizes what’s going on, and now feels like a burden to the family and others and tends to shut themselves out. They no longer feel like they belong at home or at their workplace.

Talking about suicide or wanting to die

After racing minds, feeling hopeless, helpless, guilt, feeling like a burden to their loved ones, problems sleeping, poor appetite, isolating from loved ones, feeling moody, lost turning to drugs and alcohol, having flashbacks and nightmares and all the above…. These thoughts, the feelings, stomach turning, headaches, lump in my throat, numbness in my hands, heart racing… Very overwhelming and too much to handle… then the thought comes… “I am better off dead; I won’t feel any more suffering and pain.”

Writing or drawing about suicide, or acting it out in play

I once visited a friend who I suspected would attempt suicide. She seemed happy, we played cards, had some wine, and talked about our deployments. She started telling a story about how we met, all we went through, hard times that we overcame, how we were there for each other, and how we finally made it back from our deployment safe and sound. She continued the story by saying she served her purpose and now this is the end. I was shaken up and got her help. She and I still keep in touch today, in much better terms and enjoying our life to the fullest.

If you or anyone recognize persons with suicidal tendencies and behaviors, please contact any of the resources below:

The 988 Lifeline

988 is now active across the United States. This new, shorter phone number will make it easier for people to remember and access mental health crisis services. (Please note, the previous 1-800-273-TALK (8255) number will continue to function indefinitely.) Click below to learn more about 988.

Military One Source

Suicide Prevention Hotline

Call 988 or 800-273-8255

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